A surge in coronavirus misinformation has prompted WhatsApp to limit how easily you can forward viral messages to other users.
“We are now introducing a limit so that these messages can only be forwarded to one chat at a time,” the Facebook-owned service said in a blog post on Tuesday.
Last year, WhatsApp added a “double arrow” icon next to messages that had gone viral on the service and originated beyond the user’s usual social circle. In the past, WhatsApp gave users free rein to share content on the platform, allowing entire communities to enjoy funny memes and videos. However, the forward messaging function can also be abused to spread misinformation. This occurred in India back in 2018 when false rumors about child abductions spread on WhatsApp, resulting in mob violence that killed two dozen innocent people, according to The New York Times.
In response, WhatsApp began limiting the message forwarding to only five chats at once. The change resulted in a 25 percent decrease in total message forwards globally, the service said in today’s blog post.
Now WhatsApp has decided to take the restrictions further amid reports that the chat platform has become rife with misinformation about COVID-19. Although WhatsApp itself cannot read people’s messages due to the end-to-end encryption, users and journalists have been posting evidence of the false claims, which include mention of coronavirus cures involving drinking hot water or constant sex.
“Is all forwarding bad? Certainly not,” WhatsApp said. “However, we’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of forwarding which users have told us can feel overwhelming and can contribute to the spread of misinformation. We believe it’s important to slow the spread of these messages down to keep WhatsApp a place for personal conversation.”
To better inform the public on the pandemic, WhatsApp has been teaming up with health authorities to connect people with accurate information on the coronavirus. “Together these trusted authorities have sent hundreds of millions of messages directly to people requesting information and advice,” WhatsApp added.